Football: Referee feels Francis fury

Birmingham City 1 Huddersfield Town 1
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The Independent Online
IN THE recently-released Halloween film sequel, the main star, Jamie Lee Curtis, is haunted by her memories of being attacked 20 years previously, before her nemesis reappears, as she feared, to try to finish the job.

There can be little doubt, given his black mood after this game, that Birmingham manager Trevor Francis would be extremely happy not to come across referee Robert Styles again for at least two decades, as he drew on his experience and long footballing career to cast his own comment on Mr Styles' performance. "The referee gave some of the worst decisions I've seen in 30 years involved in football," said Francis.

The main reason behind Francis' anger was the sending-off of Peter Ndlovu for two yellow cards, both for diving, but he also cited Styles' petty decision to call for a restart at the beginning of the game when a Huddersfield player encroached over the half-way line. Then, two minutes from time, Francis was left bewildered by Mr Styles' failure to award Birmingham a corner when Huddersfield goalkeeper, Nico Vaesen, blatantly touched a Darren Purse header over the bar. Ironically Francis had told his players beforehand he assumed the referee would make allowances for the rain-soaked conditions. No such luck.

After an uninspired first half, Ndlovu gave Birmingham the lead eight minutes after the break, heading in from Jon McCarthy's right-wing cross. Yet his celebrations were cut short on the hour when he fell on the edge of the box after a heavy challenge by Kevin Gray, as he was trying to make space for a shot. Mr Styles showed Ndlovu his second yellow, rather than give the penalty everyone else was expecting.

"The referee is in effect accusing Peter of cheating, yet anyone who knows him will tell you that Peter is one of the most genuine footballers around. He is distraught," Francis added. To rub salt into the wound, Francis noticed a few Huddersfield players laughing after the decision and Huddersfield manager Peter Jackson agreed, saying: "It was a strange decision."

With Birmingham in disarray, Huddersfield equalised within a minute, with what turned out to be their only shot on goal in the second half, despite their one-man advantage. Marcus Stewart, who had missed an excellent first-half chance by heading wide, controlled the ball in the penalty area from a long clearance and slotted the ball past Kevin Poole's left hand.

But Birmingham responded with two chances that should have earned them more than the point that took them to the top of the table. Firstly, Purse saw his header tipped over the bar, and then in injury-time Steve Robinson volleyed wide from six yards after another McCarthy venture down the right flank.

Those missed chances only heightened Francis's feeling of injustice, but he left St Andrews determined to ask the referee to review the sending- off on video. He added: "It won't change the result but at least we could have Ndlovu on the pitch, rather than suspended."

Goals: Ndlovu (53) 1-0; Stewart (61) 1-1.

Birmingham: Poole, Rowett (Johnson, 82), Charlton, Purse, Ablett, Marsden (Robinson, 70), McCarthy, Holland, Furlong (Adebola, 82), Grainger, Ndlovu.

Huddersfield: Vaesen, Jenkins, Edwards (Phillips, 77), Johnson, Jackson, Gray, Beresford, Horne, Stewart, Allison, Thornley (Barnes, 62). Substitute not used: Dyson.

Referee: R Styles (Waterlooville).

Sending off: Birmingham Ndlovu.

Bookings: Birmingham: Ablett. Huddersfield: Jackson, Horne.

Man of the match: McCarthy

Attendance: 19, 170.